Friday, December 23, 2011

Raza: Why I will always be a merry Muslim

Raza: Why I will always be a merry Muslim

By Raheel Raza
December 22, 2011
The Calgary Herald

December is a poig­nant month for us, as this is when my family landed in Canada 22 years ago. Christmas lights and the ambience of the season made our adjustment very cheerful, despite the challenges of the freezing weather and being new settlers.

However, this is not the only reason we hold the Christmas season near and dear to us. Our association with this celebration goes far back into our childhood, when political correctness wasn’t a word we were familiar with.

My husband studied in a boarding school in Pakistan and spent his winter holidays at the home of his best friend, Ahmed. Ahmed’s mother was Christian and celebrated her faith with gusto. On Christmas Eve, she would ask the boys to accompany her to church for midnight mass and Sohail remembers the beauty of the readings, the lilting music of the choir and, of course, the treats.

The next day, there would be visits and the exchange of gifts, and sometimes, a tree, because Christmas trees were hard to find in Rawalpindi. All this happened as naturally as celebrating Muslim festivals in the same house.

Similarly, I grew up in Pakistan studying in convent schools that were administered by Catholic nuns mostly from the United Kingdom. Some of my best friends were Catholics from Goa. Christmas was an exciting time because there were new and different traditions to learn from, different food to taste and gifts to give.

At the time we were growing up in Pakistan (the 1960s and early ’70s), there was no restriction on Christmas celebrations and churches thrived. Being a curious young person, I insisted on going to church with my friends and found the experience of prayer very heartwarming. It helped that we had learned the Lord’s Prayer in school and knew it by heart. I still remember helping my Christian friends make a nativity display and the persona of Mary has always fascinated me, doubly confirmed when I read the chapter on Mary in the Qur’an.

We knew then as we do now, that Jesus is revered as a prophet in the Qur’an and mentioned by name more times than our own Prophet Muhammad. What we have learned since then is that Jesus sets an example that we all need to learn from. We are told stories in the Qur’an of the virgin birth and of the miracles Jesus performed. So if Christmas is celebrated as the birth of this great messenger of God, then it’s incumbent on us to commemorate it as well.

Both my husband and I feel we should utilize these days to study the life of Jesus in more detail as he was a role model for humanity. His humility, compassion and healing are great lessons for us in this time of warfare and violence.

In our early years in Canada, when my sons were small, Christmas was still a celebration and I clearly recall going to their school to join in carol singing. However, it saddens me to see how the sanctity of Christmas has either become too commercialized or sidelined from the faith perspective due to political correctness and not being able to fully call Christmas what it is.

Today, Canada is home to a multitude of faiths making this the most diverse mosaic in the world. But we must be mindful not to put the celebrations of the host community on the back burner so that we can celebrate our own. I find it disturbing that some schools and institutions have taken the “Christ” and the “merry” out of Christmas.

So, I would like to take this opportunity to wish Canadians a very Merry Christmas.

Raheel Raza is a Toronto-based author and public speaker.
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Upcoming Inter-Faith Network of Calgary meeting at Deer Park United Church

The next meeting of the Inter-Faith Network of Calgary (IFNC) will be hosted by Deer Park United Church, 77 Deerpoint Rd SE on Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 7 pm.

Our theme for this year is: 'Artistic Expressions of Our Faiths'

Our program for the evening: "Singing Our Story – A Journey Through the Christian Year”

IFNC is an informal and grassroots group of Calgarians, belonging to several faith traditions, who have come together to promote goodwill and mutual understanding.

We believe that this objective is best achieved by interaction and dialogue among the followers of different faiths. This belief is based on our conviction that while the general tendency is to highlight the differences among different faiths, a deeper study would reveal that we have more in common than is generally believed.

We hope that through these gatherings, we will encourage mutual respect and peace in our community.

We meet once a month to discuss questions related to our personal spirituality and religious practice.

The venues of the gatherings rotate among the places of worship.